On Turning 35 and more

Uhhhhh ….

Ummmm ….

Errrr ….

*Minion-ese*

I am brand ambassador for #NestleNesvitaWomenOfStrength campaign. Khirad *sharam* (Don’t worry if you don’t understand this – it’s from a superhit Pakistani TV drama).

Am waiting for the video they made. Or maybe I am not. I tried following a script to answer their Qs. But they wouldn’t have it. And we all know when I speak from the heart I get into trouble. *biting nails*.

Here is an example:

For those of you who understand urdu … I made a Pathan joke. Ugh. Those who don’t, I MADE A PATHAN JOKE. *facepalm. Being a blueblooded pushtun is perhaps the reason I don’t have people calling me racist.

Alauddin - Nestle Nesvita Women of Strength Campaign 1

A photo from the campaign.

Anyway, I am glad the video (yet to go live) was shot at Alauddin. It’s my second fav place now … almost as magical as Hunza. Did I tell you I was going to Hunza for a whole month in July In sha Allah? Yes, Sir, I am. Woo hoo.

Was invited to a seminar arranged by British Council Pakistan. The US Embassy will always be my first love (think Artemis) but it was nice to hear a different English. *grin. As skeptical as I was the experience really was quite wonderful. Best part was meeting Dr Quratulain Bakhteari. The lady has a PhD in pit toilets. I meet people like these … who just quietly go through life touching people, working for them, and I somehow want to just cry. So easy to make people’s lives better. All it takes is a little bit of our time and yet we don’t do it. Why? Emo much? Oh well.

British Council Seminar

One epic moment at the seminar. I have been trying to avoid this anecdote but I can’t help it. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. So, during a panel discussion on how we can use technology to engage civil society, moderator asked us how we can capitalize on a hyper connected youth. This person representing the IT Ministry gave the BEST answer. Remember, I said IT Ministry. He said the best way to engage this tech-savvy, socially connected youth was to build playgrounds and get them involved in sports!!! OMG. OMG. ROFL. *splutter gasp* #facepalm. Sigh.

What else? Ummm …. nothing much really. Oohhh yeah. I turned 35. Wow. I always used to think 35 was old. But I don’t feel old. Is that normal? Pretty much feel the same as I did at 15. Except I have some grey hair now. And I weigh a ton. Or two tons. But I feel just as stupid as I did before. Somehow the same stupid thoughts make people think I am clever now. Find me inspiring. Strange how perspectives can change. However, not sure how I feel about it. As long as I wasn’t relatively famous I knew who were my friends most of the time. Now, I am not. I mean I think I do but then I find out the hard way they are just people who are intrigued. They have an idea of who I am and then they are disappointed when they find out I am not who they thought I was. That I really meant what I told them about me and I wasn’t just being self-deprecating. And it’s like they are taken aback and shocked that I can be human. But oh well. I am not competing with anyone on being nice.

The only person you should try be better than is the person you were yesterday.

Ok byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

 

 

Asking Life for More

Some days I am an atheist. For some moments. The madness surrounding my country leaves me gasping for breath. Every day the news of someone getting killed in a senseless war waged by a faceless enemy surrounded by countless controversies for reasons that are … well … just not reason enough. Fear that comes with the realization this may be just the catharsis. Preparation for something more personal, more closer to home. This shaking, terrified person I have met today that I never thought I was just because of a name that sounded familiar and that may be no more may stay here and become me. And every time the feeling lasts for a few seconds. Because I need to have Faith. Believe there is a Heaven … a better place where everything is fair. Where the good are rewarded .. and the bad .. the bad are chastised. If I didn’t, I won’t be able to “be”. Not physically, not in spirit. I’d snatch out my soul and tear it into pieces so I just wouldn’t be. So I need Faith. I need God. So I know that in the end everything’s going to be OK. 

So on to better things! 

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. People have their own ways of celebrating it. Some make morning show appearances and laugh at lame jokes, dance to silly songs. Some will hold glitzy events at fancy hotels. Yet others will go for bicycle rides!!! Dunno what any of that achieves but more power to everyone. Me? I will be at Ala-ud-din Academy with the women no one will prolly ever know. The unsung heroes who go about their daily routines. Women who work; support themselves and families; go home and take on the roles of mothers, daughters, wives; who face every day challenges without demanding any recognition for any of it. Yet who have true grit and determination to do more … achieve more … ask for more from life. They make me feel small and unaccomplished. But at the same time happier for having known them just a wee bit. 

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

DDSS – Different Day, Same SUPER-AWESOMENESS

I hate how Facebook keeps tempting me to say something. That little white bar pretends to be interested in what I am thinking, who I am with, what I am eating. Like an annoying 12 year old who wants to shadow everything you do.

Wow! I am random, ain’t I?

My mind is cluttered with a lot of rubbish these days. On top is WDL, as usual. Not that WDL is rubbish. NOT AT ALL. I mean I have questions and people who will gladly answer the questions but am just not sure I am ready to hear them … just yet. Going in a slightly new direction with it. Have included capacity building to the things we do. Have always been slightly averse to the term. Have you noticed how many people throw that at you … “capacity building”, “skill development” ? It all sounds like a fraud. Maybe because it usually is. I mean what’s the point of skill building if you are not going to follow up on it and actually help people realize how that new skill they have learned from attending your workshop is useful to them? If there is no economic activity generated around it it’s pretty useless IMO.

Millions of dollars are coming into Pakistan and being used for teaching people to fish. But if they live in a desert? How good is that fishing workshop to them? Why would a person who barely gets 2 meals a day send one of his/her 10 kids to your school? What value is there is learning about plateaus and names of planets when what they really need is the 3 Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic) and special lessons in farming, fixing machinery, handicrafts, computers even to start earning even while they are in school? Do I sound bourgeois? I really hope I don’t because that’s not my intention.

Look, I am going to women who already have college degrees and am teaching them to harness the power of the Internet to become economically independent. I thought I would just show them how to use Elance and oDesk and then let them see what a wonderland it all is. But I very quickly realized not every one is cut out for data entry or SEO. It’s CRIMINAL I believe if I know it’s not going to work for most and KNOW what will and then not help. So here I am now giving the whole package. We are doing a crash course on these different platforms like oDesk and Elance and Live Person. Then I am going to do simple basic websites with them using free WP templates and tweaking them to look and feel a certain way so that includes basic Photoshop. After that I am doing Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest with them. Having done that I will brainstorm what their special skills are. Are they good at embroidery or knitting or baking or do they give tuition etc. Having done done that am going to show them how they can then use all the skills they learned to make a business out of what they are already good at.

So suppose a group of 5 girls say they give tuition to primary grade kids. They can make a WP website, create a page for it on FB and link that to Twitter, and now promote themselves as an academy with female only teachers where the local parents would feel comfortable sending their little girls to for exam preparation etc. They can also add tuition classes through Skype as a VAS.

Similarly another group can come together and make a small catering business.

What do you think? Am I missing something here? What are the other ways you think the Internet can help them actually gain financial independence?

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

The Highs and Lows

I have been really pathetic past couple of days. But we all need those days now and then. When you experience something that tears you between what you know is right and what you know will make you happy. It can be professional or personal life. “Succumb” – my heart tells me. “It’s not you” – my mind chastises. Not being a very strong person I always take the easy route. Turn to Him. Lay it all out into the open and tell Him to do for me what’s right because I don’t have the strength. So, when I was weak, He stepped in. I tell you dudettes, His decisions are realllllyyyyy tough and you gotta be a 100% sure you want an intervention. So I was saying … I have been down in the dumps, hating myself, hating on the world, hating on everything. And I am still not all the way OK but the worse is over. I am here writing this blog, ain’t I? So … deep breath … inhale … and EXHALE. Phewww …

Back to my former glory .. almost.

I was at Alauddin Academy. You know about that, right? It’s crazy fun, I tell you. And so gratifying. The online work workshop is going well thanks to the very hard work of Amna Zafar. Initially the plan was to just teach them basics of Elance and let them figure out other things on their own. But seeing how enthusiastic everyone is and what a wonderful bunch of students we have, we are now covering all the basis. So Elance, oDesk, Freelancer and LivePerson. Also, basics of blogging, creating WordPress websites using simple templates (tweaks really), Facebook and Twitter and how to use them for running small online businesses. Exciting, right!

Image

Image

Image

Image

Again, I request you … if you have any data entry work or SEO article work or some other small thing you think you wouldn’t mind getting done on the cheap while helping these women please ping me.

So long.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

‘Sup, Doc?

Loads of cool stuff happening.

1. My First Event: I suck at organizing events no matter how tiny. But 2014 saw to it that I cross that bridge too. With the help of my very sweet student volunteer, Arooj Perzada, I gathered a group of about 35-45 people at the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) in Lahore, Pakistan for GIST’s live webinar “Crowdfund Your Startup Venture” showing from the State Department in Washington DC, US. You can see the album here courtesy of the amazing The AppJuice team which was our official social media partner. You can also read about the event here and here. You can also watch a recording of the live event here (they took a q towards the end from your’s truly ;) )

GIST TechConnect

2. Bringing Technovation to Pakistan: How many times have you heard that technology is just not for girls? That’s exactly what Technovation is trying to change. Its a Not-for-Profit based in Silicon Valley. It encourages school girls to make smartphone apps using a simple software that works like LEGO-blocks. Girls decide on a social problem, find a way to solve the problem via a smartphone app, and then build a business plan around it. Winning entries get to pitch to real investors in Silicon Valley. How cool is that? NO! That wasn’t a question. It was … kind of … if the answer is YES ITS AWESOME COOL!! *glare. OK so I have been in touch with the team for a while and this year I got some schools in dear ol’ Pk involved. We have the Liberal Arts High School from Islamabad, Alaudin Academy Lahore and Sedna School Hunza. I have high hopes for these girls. Also, if you or someone you know is a phone app developer and would like to volunteer their time (2 hours a week) please contact me. Let’s see how this goes.

Technovation Challenge Pakistan

3. The Portkey: I am suffering from a Harry Potter hangover. I miss it. *sob. Have finally found someone I think I can trust my baby with Yeah am talking about WDL. This company is making my web portal. Am super excited. This is something I have wanted since I started the company but just could never muster up the courage to actually work on it. Also, the fact I am perpetually broke didn’t help things much. I realize that now is as good a time as any. Gotta make it happen. So wish me luck peeps.

4. Elance Trainings: Am starting the first batch of Elance training in Alaudin Academy with a batch of 25 women. Amna Zafar, an Elance user and a very successful freelancer from Pakistan, will conduct the training. If you have any small data entry / data scraping projects you can send our way, please contact me.

Alauddin Academy

5. Guest from the US: Took a one day hurricane trip to Islo-land to attend a luncheon in honor of Catherine Russell, United States Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues. Had met her predecessor, Melanne Verveer, during the famous Project Artemis/GS 10k Women. Found out Saba Nazneen Ghori, one of our hosts at the US State Department, is temporarily working at the US Embassy Islamabad. It was so exciting to see her – like those 3 weeks weren’t just a dream. :) Met some exceptional Pakistani women including Dr Sania Nishtar, Sabeen Haque, and Saddafe Abidi.

6. Hunza on Elance: Great news coming out of Hunza. Just so haters won’t call me names, I am not taking credit for this. The IT Centers are run independently by KADO. I merely advise on best practices, chalking out course work, help with marketing and whenever possible, connect them to work. Trainess at the centers are finding online work. They are involved with writing projects with AllVoices, formatting eBook on Elance. I am soooo psyched for them. Can’t wait to meet them in the summers. Here are some of their stories that they shared independently. WDL NEVER shares personal stories of its service providers.

freelancers in Hunza Gilgit-Baltistan

Didar Ali Hunza KADO

7. Celebrity: 2013 was super awesome. WDL has finally started getting the recognition it deserves if I may say so myself. Was featured on Mashable, Virgin, Ashoka, ForbesElan, Express Tribune, International Business Times, WAMDA, Muftah, TechPresident, The AppJuice. It’s just been CRAZY! I am happy, proud, humbled, nervous.

Mashable

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

*The Elance Training at Alauddin Academy is not an official certification workshop. It’s conducted independently by users of Elance to help trainees use the platform.*

Early V-Day Love

In Pakistan there is a big debate every year over whether we should celebrate Valentine’s Day or not. The debauch liberals are all in favor. The enlightened moderate ones (ah Musharraf … you made the term famous) say sure, but only with your spouses. The flag-bearers of our morality, the ones who have sworn to save their brethren from hell-fire are strictly against. Either way, here is 2014′s V-Day just a few days away. And this brings me to my new love.

Basecamp is a co-working space in … wait for it … PESHAWAR! Yeah ok so 2 weird things there. The name, Basecamp, itself. Isn’t that an online project management website? Then second even CRAZIER thing. It’s in Peshawar!!! Isn’t that the crazy city at the Afghan border hit by the worse strain of terrorism of any urban area in Pakistan?

Hang on. Let me get to each separately before I get sidetracked and this post never sees the light of day like so many others.

I asked Muhammad Uzair, cofounder of Basecamp, some very tough questions over our Facebook chat.

Q1. Dude, why Basecamp? Why not “Khyber Goes Cool” or something?

A. “We are Basecamp Pakistan, they are/were 37 Signals. Basecamp is your temporary stay with us before your big startup summit, your next big mountain to scale.”

Q2. Peshawar? Seriously? Are you crazy?

A. “Yes we are are we needed a space to get the rest of the crazies together. At first we were meeting at Cafe’s, organising events in Universities, and brain storming at friend’s drawing rooms. So it made perfect sense to combine all three and get a co-working space of our own.”

Uzair, that was cheesy but OK I will accept.

Happy peeps? The Digital League is also one of the very first of the “crazies” that has made this place home. Got a couple of kids sitting there handling social media and web dev for clients. As a “thank you”, Basecamp gave TDL (and all other registrants) free swag. Check this out and be jaylus.

Image

I think it’s really cool. It doesn’t matter what you think … at least not on my blog. *grin

OK two more photos so you know how cool it is. All Google-like grunge-garage look (you can’t see the ceiling – that’s where the garage look comes in).

Image

Image

Oh, yeah, asked one last very important question after which the lazy co-founder refused to answer any more.

Q3. What are the perks of working at Basecamp?

A. “We give you a starter kit to just get you started, and then there’s everything Basecamp offers. Top talent of the region to work with, weekly talks that range from cutting edge research in biology to trends in digital marketing, an acceleration/incubation program is also just around the corner by one of our partners. Not to forget access to world class mentors (and investors!).”

So this February 14th, Basecamp is my Valentine. *what a sad life. I know*

Uhh whatever!

You know how sometimes you read something and you feel better for it though if someone asked you to explain it you’d prolly draw a blank? That’s how I feel with Hardy, Arundhati Roy & Jon Elia. Don’t understand most of it & neither do I try. You can’t understand a sunrise or rain or love – you just know it makes you feel better, happier.

People been telling me I need to read biz books. Books on entrepreneurship, life lessons, making money. I tried. I swear I did. It was interesting. But only for like the first 20 pages. These books are too practical. I feel like they sap the “human” right out of me. No disrespect intended. That’s just me. How does learning to make money enrich your soul? If your soul is empty, unnourished, boring, how do you live? Does the money, fame, success matter? I mean 4 years ago just being called an entrepreneur made me giggle. Today, deserved or not, I am pretty famous. But does it make me happy the way quietly helping some young woman to a tiny online task made me when I started? That gratification, personal satisfaction, it’s almost gone now that I have to go around blowing my own trumpet telling the world how awesome I am having helped xyz number of people.

I have a headache & nausea. I think I need specs. If the doc prescribes them I will get those round kinds Harry Potter wears.

This post is making no sense but I feel good.

Ok byeeeeee

Super Woman, Maria Adil

Image

“When I read about this lady I genuinely for a moment thought, Wow, she is a super woman. Please welcome Maria ADIL”.

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

OK so explanation.

Was invited to speak on the panel for entrepreneurship at the US Embassy Islamabad’s Annual UGrad Alumni Reunion. They were covering travel and lodging and as you know by now I am a champion freebie of course I went. They put me in Serena for the night. Cool, right? As my friend says, You don’t need to be rich to have fun. Mwahahahaha.

So in the AM I head down to the venue. LOADS of young people. GOSH, it was enough to make the mid-life crisis kick in. It was a lot of positive energy I can tell you. Seeing old friend/neighbor Osman Saddique who is now an alumni coordinator at the US Consulate Peshawar was a treat. Can’t believe he is the same kid who used to play cricket in our street and get scoldings from my mother. Tee hee.

Image

So, panel starts. Of course Ayla Majid was there. love the woman to bits. She is so brainy … like not the “I have read all of Tolstoy” kinda brainy but the accounting, FCCA, ACCA, (all other acronyms made from English alphabets certified) kinda clever. 2 other gentlemen that I barely knew. And this is my dahlins when the moderator, a young girl barely out of her teens introduces me as. Maria ADIL. I guffawed out loud. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. No wonder she thought I was a superwoman. Confused me with someone else I guess. Have to Google this Maria Adil person now. Am intrigued.

One thing I realized during the session was how even now so many kids are clueless about how to make their ideas into reality. Some questions that sill come up are;

- How do I finance my project?

- Where do I find incubators or accelerators?

First thing everyone needs to understand prolly is how businessman and entrepreneur are different. If there are 5 textile mills in the country and they are not meeting demand of the market then you start a new textile mill. Does exactly what any other does but its meeting market demand. There you go. You have a business.

Then you have an entrepreneur. Entrepreneur identifies a problem. Has probably been affected/afflicted by it. And tries find a solution to that problem. So to me personally entrepreneurship is about;

1. Self discovery

2. Saying no to being a “victim” to a problem.

3. Finding a solution where traditionally you are told there was none

As Ayla very aptly said in Pakistan you see problems everywhere. From the grassroots level to the very top. So this is the Land of Opportunity now quite literally. For example, I am a woman. Not allowed to work outside unless its teaching at a school or a girls college. Am a new mother. Can’t even do the little I am allowed to. So I go ahead and start the Women’s Digital League –  a platform where women can work from home on various ICT tasks. Where do I get my money from? I don’t have any. Erm … I make it online. OK, but then what about spending on a website and putting a system in place? I use WordPress and mu BFF “Excel Spreadsheets” and Google tools. How do I pay my employees? They are all ad hoc – project based workers. What about power outages? Get a UPS. Internet problems? Get TWO connections instead of one and PRAY. Internet censorship … no YouTube or Skype to phone calls that clients used to pay for? Apologize to client and not take YouTube tasks or send them to a friend in another country (really, takes 10 minutes to upload a video max … what kind of a friend would say no to helping out with that?) – instead of Skype use Hangouts (calls to landlines in US are FREE) or get a phone card … they usually last for ages.

So you see … everything has a solution or that’s how an entrepreneur thinks. So don’t worry about things before you have started. Take the plunge and the net will appear. If you MUST have funding, try crowdfunding, or pitching in the various startup competitions that are happening these days. if you are good, the money will come, I promise you.

If you have any Qs, just LMK. Mayeb I will answer or I can always pass them on to superwoman Maria ADIL.

hehehehehehe

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Dear Serena, I took all the toiletries and emptied out the mini bar. Just saying.

Harassment, Internet Censorship, And Kindness

I am mad as hell today. Actually been that way the past few days. I am not going into details except that I have threatened an expose on the harassment that takes place in the highest echelons of Pakistan’s tech sector. Am sure it happens in all spheres and in all countries but still … does that make it OK? NO.

Does anyone have ANY idea how hard it is in Pakistan for a woman to go out and get a job and pursue a career? What she doesn’t need is some ancient (grand)father figure or a sicko suffering from a horrible case of the mid-life crisis coming onto them with disgusting lines and propositions. Some of us are strong enough to give them a piece of our mind and walk away. But for majority of women its not easy. They get easily confused, start doubting themselves, even blaming themselves thinking they must have said something to encourage that kind of behavior. To you I say, ladies, you have nothing to be afraid of. If you feel uncomfortable with someone it’s because they are making you so and you have every right to let them know. If they still don’t back off, a hard smack across the face works wonders. But if you want to go for something subtle, you can seek help from various organizations in Pakistan such as AASHA, and still others that allow you to post your complaints anonymously.

^ was number one reason why I was mad. Here is Reason Number 2.

Internet Ban Pakistan

 

(Noorani = spiritual)

The stupid IT Ministry keeps banning everything. First YouTube, then Skype to phone calls, then the tinkering with Google itself. Recently they tried to ban IMDb. WHAT THE HELL! I mean why don’t we just give up the charade and just go back and start living in the caves since the original cave-inhabitants have already been “smoked out” and are now using cell phones and Internet to carry on with whatever they do. And so to protect us innocent peeps, government needs to block everything. Hurray! Better start buying caves … am sure property prices will rise significantly in Tora Bora soon enough. *grrrr

Phew … that felt good. Now with all that venom out of the way you ask … “Dudette, we know you are super awesome but how do you manage it? Like despite all the obvious and not-so-obvious challenges how do you go on being your legendary self?” To this I say, “I know sista’ friends. It’s a lil hard to believe any one person can have so much talent, killer good looks, and etc. But a few good men (okay, “people”) is all you need to keep going.” OK seriously. Just finding a few good people really makes a difference. Most people you come across turn out to be complete jerks. But the handful are such a pleasure they take away all the bitterness and negativity the majority try to bring into your life. Let me give you an example.

I needed a kick a** presentation for this accelerator in CA, USA (details later, my lovelies). Now we all know I am no good with that stuff. So wrote to random ppl asking for help. So many rose to the occasion … some being complete strangers. It was so heartwarming I tell you. And this is what keeps me going and believing and dreaming and keeps me optimistic.

OK enough … byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee